Sunday, October 2, 2011

UCLA scientists find H1N1 flu virus prevalent in animals in Africa

UCLA life scientists and their colleagues have discovered the first evidence of the H1N1 virus in animals in Africa. In one village in northern Cameroon, a staggering 89 percent of the pigs studied had been exposed to the H1N1 virus, commonly known as the swine flu.

"I was amazed that virtually every pig in this village was exposed," said Thomas B. Smith, director of UCLA's Center for Tropical Research and the senior author of the research. "Africa is ground zero for a new pandemic. Many people are in poor health there, and disease can spread very rapidly without authorities knowing about it."

H1N1 triggered a human pandemic in the spring of 2009, infecting people in more than 200 countries. In the U.S., it led to an estimated 60 million illnesses, 270,000 hospitalizations and 12,500 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The virus, known scientifically as Influenza A (H1N1), is made up of genetic elements of swine, avian and human influenza viruses. The pigs in Cameroon, the researchers say, were infected by humans.

"The pigs were running wild in that area," said lead author Kevin Njabo, a researcher in UCLA's department of ecology and evolutionary biology and associate director of the Center for Tropical Research. "I was shocked when we found out it was H1N1. Any virus in any part of the world can reach another continent within days by air travel. We need to understand where viruses originate and how they spread, so we can destroy a deadly virus before it spreads. We have to be prepared for a pandemic, but so many countries are not well-prepared — not even the United States." more